1.Which court did you attend and what was the date of your attendance? (e.g. Magistrates Court in Brisbane; Supreme Court in Sydney etc)
2.What kind of hearing did you attend?(e.g. sentence, summary trial, committal hearing, jury trial, mention, call-over etc.) I attended an appeal against sentence. This is when the accused feels the sentence they were given is too severe, in which case a request is put forth to a higher court for the review and rehearing of evidence to change the decision of a lower court. The Crown is also able to file for an appeal if they believe the sentence given is inadequate of the crime committed. This process can only be done once a guilty plea or verdict is reached. (Findlay, Odgers& Yeo, 2009, p. 315)
3. What were the charges against the defendant? Were these summary or indictable offences? How did you know this? The charges against the accused were one count Reckless Grievous Bodily Harm. Section 35(2) of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 describes Reckless Grievous Bodily Harm as “A person who: a) Causes grievous bodily harm to any person, and
b) Is reckless as to causing actual bodily harm to that or any other person, Is guilty of an offence.”
This is a Table 1 indictable offence (The Criminal Procedure Act 1986); which means it can be dealt with summarily before a magistrate in the Local Court (unless the defence or prosecution elects otherwise). This also means that the maximum penalty which can be imposed is 2 years imprisonment.
4.Who was present in the courtroom? Identify the positions of all the people present and give a brief description of their role and what you observed them do in the courtroom during your visit. The participants in the courtroom were; the judge, the defence, the crown prosecutor, the court reporter, the judge’s associate, the court officer, the offender and the offender’s family.
The Judge, who is addressed as Your Honour, was seated at the highest bench in the middle of the courtroom. Their role in this court is to review questions of law with the power to override the underlying facts of the case and the conclusions of a judge or jury. “The appellate courts will interfere with the sentence only if there is an error… [may be] specific or expressly contained in the sentencing decision, or it may be a non-specific error.” (Findlay, Odgers& Yeo, 2009, p. 317)
The defence barrister has a duty to represent his or her client’s interest to the full extent of the law.In an appeal against sentence the defence must argue that the original decision involved error in the exercising of discretion, such as the judge not considering an issue, or taking into account a matter they shouldn’t have.
The Crown prosecutor is an officer of the court who has a duty to act in an ethical manner. Their role is to present evidence and argument to the court in support of the prosecution case both at the first court hearing and on appeal. (State of New South Wales, Department of Education and Communities and Charles Sturt University, 2011). The court reporter sat in a small booth on the top right side of the room. Their primary role is to maintain a transcript of all oral proceedings in the courtroom.
The judge’s associate sits at the associate’s bench in front of the judge. Here they are able to assist the judge by preparing documentation of the court proceedings, handing up any necessary documents and exhibits and reading out the charges and indictments of the accused.
The court officer is responsible for escorting the judge to and from the courtroom. Their main purpose is to assist in the effective operation of courts by performing a variety of tasks such as; maintaining orderly conduct of court and hearing rooms, liaising with the judiciary, police department and legal profession, and announcing the beginning and end of court sessions. (Commonwealth of Australia 2011)
The offender was seated in the dock and did not have an active role in this courtroom.
9 members of the offender’s family sat in the gallery.
5. Briefly describe what was happening in the courtroom. Judge J English entered the courtroom and took her seat at the high bench; the defence barrister then gave a brief overview of the charges against his client and the sentence given in the lower court. He stated the date in which the offence occurred, the sentencing and the age of the offender. He also read out the appropriate sections of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). The judge’s associate then handed relevant documents such as the pre-sentence report to the judge for review. The defence then asked for his client to be given a suitability assessment for an Intensive Corrections Order (ICO) in accordance with The Crimes (Sentencing Legislation)Amendment (Intensive Correction Orders) Act 2010. This is a sentence of imprisonment of no more than 2 years served by the offender within the community.
“An ICO is served in the community under the strict supervision of Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) rather than in full-time custody in a correctional centre” It was then stated that the view of The Crown was “open to Your Honour to view”. For the next 10 or so minutes the courtroom was silent as Judge English looked over the evidence and reports. During this time the offender’s family all looked very bored and uninterested. The defence, crown and judges associate were all busy reading and shuffling papers around. Once The Judge was satisfied with what she had read she discussed with the defence the following factors and paper work necessary for the ICO assessment to be undertaken; The offender’s previous conviction; It was mentioned that the offender had a minimum record; no further information was given at this time.
The risks associated with managing the offender in the community; the defence said the offender had good prospects of managing change with the support of his family. Doctor’s report; including a psychiatrist’s report and reference letters from nurse practitioners. Judge English said the appeal would be upheld while the offender was referred to the interview for the Intensive Corrections Order Assessment. The defence requested the offender reside at his parents address and report to Penrith Police 3 days a week. The Judge agreed to this and the defence conferred with his client and agreed upon the most suitable days and times . The judge then announced that bail would continue until the 5th of November pending the assessment. The court was then adjourned.
6. What was the most interesting thing you observed during your visit? I found my entire visit to The District Court very fascinating. The most intriguing part would have been how matter-of-fact the whole procedure was. It felt extremely impersonal and intimidating. The offender was segregated from the ‘action’ of the courtroom, and it was almost as though he wasn’t even there. The judge barely looked at the offender and only spoke to him and about him through his defence lawyer. This is a very different reality of court proceedings then that which is shown on TV.
7. Was it easy to understand what was happening in the courtroom? Why/why not? I found it a little bit hard to follow, mainly because I didn’t really know what to expect. There were a few other factors that made it hard for me to understand what was happening, one of them was that I attended an appeal of which I did not have any prior information or background of the case. This meant I had to do a lot of my own research at home to get a better idea of what happened before that particular day in court. I also found it hard to hear because of a combination of the active parties speaking softly, where I was seated and the fast-paced nature of the courtroom.
8. Do you think a defendant would understand the court process you observed? What about a witness, or a victim of crime, or a jury member? Give reasons to support your answer. I believe the offender would have had knowledge and an understanding of the court process, as this was not his first court appearance. Due to the nature of this case the offender would have been educated by his legal representation of the potential outcomes both fore and against prior to proceeding with his appeal. As this case was an appeal there was no jury, witness or a victim present. However it is probable that the jury, witness or victim would have understood the judicial process as each would have been guided or educated by either the judge, defence or prosecution depending on their role in the case.
9. In a paragraph, critically reflect upon your experience in court. At the time of writing this report we have not yet covered the appeal process, so in order to relate that back to what we have learnt thus far is difficult. What I am comfortable with reflecting on is the knowledge that before an appeal court can intervene it must establish that the sentencing judge has made an error in the exercise of his or her discretion. (Judicial Commission of New South Wales 2012) Furthermore in week 1 we discussed the importance of due process being the principle of fairness that should be executed in all legal proceedings. In this instance it would appear there has been a miscarriage of due process which has allowed the offender a right to appeal. In summary due process has been compromised and as a result the offender has not been afforded a fair trial.